20 Feb THE INCIDENT AT RUBY RIDGE, Part 3
THE INCIDENT AT RUBY RIDGE
PART THREE – GERRY SPENCE FOR THE DEFENSE, AND THE TRIAL OF RANDY WEAVER AND KEVIN HARRIS.
On the same day that Randy Weaver surrendered to law enforcement, he met with attorney, Gerry Spence. Spence (born Gerald Leonard Spence, 1929), was and still is one of America’s greatest trial attorneys. Spence is a tall man from Wyoming know for his homespun style, western courtroom attire, and never losing a criminal jury trial, both as a prosecutor or defense attorney. Spence began his meeting with Weaver by telling him that he did not share his political and religious beliefs. But he did believe in Weaver’s right to a fair trial, and after hearing him out, Spence agreed to defend him. In a letter to his Jewish friend Alan Hirschfield-in response to Hirschfield’s trying to persuade Spence not to take Weaver’s case- Spence said that the defense of Randy Weaver “transcends a white separatist movement or notions of the supremacy of one race over another, for the ultimate enemy of any people is not the angry hate groups that fester within, but a government itself that has lost its respect for the individual.”
The defense team consisted of Spence, his son Kent, an Idaho lawyer named Chuck Peterson, and his partner Gary Gilman. Kevin Harris would be represented by David Nevin, who took the case largely for the opportunity to work with Spence. The defense team was unpaid, but for a token fee to Peterson for court appointed counsel.
Handling the prosecution was Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Howen, and Kim Lindquist. Howen, who had been assigned the original weapons charge, had a history of successfully prosecuting white supremacists and was known to be aggressive and confident. The case charged ten counts in all including the original weapon charge, and conspiracy to murder Federal Marshal William Degan. Howen, a man who did not like plea-bargain cases, even sought leave to seek the death penalty against Weaver and Harris, however the judge ruled that capital charges were unwarranted.
The trial of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris began in Boise on April 12, 1993, in a packed courtroom. Security at the courthouse was upgraded; trouble was anticipated, and metal detectors, X-ray machines, and a number of federal marshals were evident. The jury consisted of seven women and five men, ranging in age from thirty-one to seventy-two, high school dropouts to MBAs.
In the prosecution’s opening statement, Howen and Lindquist painted Weaver as a racist who had been planning to wage war against the government since 1982. The portrayed Weaver as a hate-filled extremist, and a man who’s religious zealotry was only overshadowed by the threat of violence he posed to others.
David Nevin, opening on behalf of Kevin Harris, presented a self defense theory for his client. Spence went last, and spent much of his time personalizing Randy Weaver to the jury. He felt that if the jury could understand Weaver, they would feel empathy for him and see things from his perspective. Spence drew a compelling picture of a loving and devoted family man just trying to protect his family and live in peace.
The government began their case by calling U.S. Marshal Larry Cooper, who witnessed the deaths of Agent Degan and Sammy Weaver. Cooper testified that Kevin Harris shot Degan first, then the rest of the shooting followed. According to Cooper, Degan said “Stop, U.S. Marshals.” Then Harris “brought his weapon around to hip level and fired.” Cooper denied shooting Sammy Weaver, but instead said he shot Kevin Harris, who “went down like a sack of potatoes.”
In response to a request by the defense, Cooper came to court the second day dressed in the same camouflage uniform he was wearing on August 21, and carried the gun he had carried that day into the courtroom. The defense wanted the jurors to see what Kevin and Sammy had seen that day. During cross examination, Cooper could not explain why his weapon was fitted with a silencer, but was forced to admit he had orders to lure the dogs away from the Weavers and shoot them, taking them “out of the picture”. Spence’s highlighted the role of Striker (the family pet) when he asked the agent, “Now, the dog’s biggest crime was that he was following you, isn’t that true?”.
Another key witness for the prosecution was Agent Fadeley, the undercover agent who asked Weaver to illegally modify the shotguns. Fadeley admitted under cross examination that it was difficult to get Weaver to break the law, and in a key exchange, Spence’s co-counsel, Chuck Peterson, got Fadeley to admit that he did not receive payment for his undercover work unless their was a conviction.
On the fourth day of trial, Judge Lodge instructed the jury to disregard news reports coming from Waco, Texas. On that day, April 19, 1993, the FBI’s siege of the Branch Davidian church ended with gunfire and flames. The jurors were told to ignore the events in Waco, even though some of the same government agents involved in Ruby Ridge were participants in the Waco Siege.
Throughout the pretrial and during the trial, it became apparent that the FBI was not fulfilling their obligation to provide the defense with all documents relating to the case in its possession. At times, especially late in the government’s case, when it appeared the defense was making headway, new evidence and new witnesses would just appear.
It seemed as though the FBI and BATF did not want to cooperate with the prosecution or the defense. The judge and defense lawyers were screaming for full disclosure of all relevant documents, while FBI and BATF appeared to be stonewalling.
meanwhile the defense continued to exploit holes in the government’s case. When Arthur Roderick was called to the stand, Nevin tried to get him to admit that he shot the dog first, but he would not relent. Then Spence took Roderick on cross:
Spence: You told the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that you cam sneaking out there in the middle of the night-
Roderick: I did not say anything about sneaking.
Spence: You did sneak didn’t you?
Roderick: What do you call sneaking? You’re putting words in my mouth.
Spence: (looking for a dictionary): Sneak, “to go stealthily or furtively.”
Roderick: Are you asking me what I said or what you said? I did not say I was sneaking. You said I was sneaking.
Spence: Now don’t get excited.
Roderick: I’m not getting excited. I’m just explaining to you what your question was.
Spence: You asked me, didn’t you? Or have you forgotten? You asked me what I meant by sneak.
Roderick: Correct, but I did not say that.
Spence: I didn’t ask you that.
Roderick: Yes, you did.
Finally at the end of Roderick’s two days of cross-examination by Spence, Roderick said, “The truth is the truth.” Spence paused, then replied, “Yes.” and after a moment’s silence, he went on, “It is.”
The last witness for the Government was Lon Horiuchi, the sniper who had shot Weaver, and killed Vicki. He entered the courtroom surrounded by a security detail of four FBI agents. The handmade wooden door to the Weaver cabin had been brought into the courtroom and was displayed behind Horiuchi, the bullet hole in the window visible to all.
Horiuchi showed no emotion, and seemed like a machine, including sir in every answer he gave. He testified he was trying to hit Kevin Harris at the time he shot Weaver. Spence had the two men stand up to show their distinctly different builds.
On the second day of cross-examination Spence focused on Vicki’s death. Spence asked, “Just before you shot you knew the door was open, didn’t you?” Horiuchi answered, “At that time, yes sir.” Spence continued. “Didn’t you know that there was a possibility of someone being behind that door?” The sniper answered, “There may have been, yes sir.” Spence later asked, “You heard a woman screaming after you last shot?” “Yes, sir, I did.”, responded the Horiuchi. Spence continued, “That screaming went on for thirty seconds?” “About thirty seconds, yes, sir.”
In a classic bit of courtroom drama, Spence said, “I want us to just take thirty seconds; now pretend in our mind’s eye that we can hear the screaming.” The jury, transfixed on the door behind Horiuchi, waited in the still courtroom as thirty long seconds ticked off the clock.
The defense after much discussion and consideration ultimately decided not to put on a case. Spence and Nevin could see the surprise in the eyes of the jury when they made their announcement, they wondered if they had done the right thing, but ultimately decided to rely on the holes in the government’s case and their closing arguments.
On June 15, 1993, closing argument began. Kim Lindquist started for the prosecution. Lindquist set the theme of the case and outlined the reasons for conviction. He argued that Kevin Harris had murdered Bill Degan, and that Vicki Weaver’s death was a tragic accident. He blamed hers an Sammy’s deaths on Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris and the men’s desire to attack the government. “This whole thing is a tragedy…but the cause of the tragedy was the resolve of the weaver family and that translates into murder.”
Kevin Harris’s defense attorney, David Nevin was next. He pointed out the inconsistencies of the government’s case and set out a well skilled argument for self-defense.
After a short break for lunch all eyes focused on Gerry Spence as he rose to address the jury.
-In Part Four I will post the entire uninterrupted closing argument of Gerry Spence. The masterful story and powerful emotion he weaved should be shared.